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Business Software Alliance: Outright liars or just truth challenged?

Don't expect fair play from the Bully Software Alliance

By James E. Gaskin, Network World
June 29, 2006 11:57 AM ET
James Gaskin

Earlier this month, I began talking about the new software Mafia, aka the Business Software Alliance (check out "The software protection racket, Part 1 and Part 2"). Two goals this week: get the BSA to tell me what prompts a software audit, and get Microsoft - one of the primary forces behind the BSA - to define piracy. Oh, yes, I also asked Microsoft about how it helps customers prove their software is legal.

Sadly, the tradition of asking direct questions and getting direct answers has gone out of style at the Bully Software Alliance.

Me: What kinds of evidence do tipsters bring to you that prompts software audits?

Jenny Blank, Director of Enforcement for the BSA: "Depends on the case." That’s a fancy way of saying "no comment," isn't it? Further, they "won't discuss the kinds of people who call us."

So I tried again: What motivates people to call the BSA?

Blank: "It's hard to know. Often they are the stereotypical disgruntled former employee. But the issue is not what motivated them, but do they have a story to tell us."

Let's dispense with euphemisms: the tipsters are rats. They are motivated not by concerns about the welfare of software giants like Microsoft missing a few dollars, but by the huge rewards the Bully Software Alliance dangles. By huge I mean up to $200,000, just recently increased from $50,000.

But Blank has no clue what motivates them, except when I asked about reports that the rats are the very software administrators trusted by companies to track license compliance. Blank says "We have no reason to believe we've investigated cases where that's been a problem."

Judging by what attorney Rob Scott of Scott & Scott LLP says, that's stretching the truth. Clients regularly tell Scott they feel strongly the person making the report to the BSA was their employee in charge of software compliance.

But companies will never know who squealed. Blank says, since these aren't criminal proceedings, you don't get to face your accuser in court. In fact, Blank says they'll fight in court to keep the rat's name a secret. But she assures me they "vet" the rats, er, informants completely before proceeding against a company. Guess we'll just have to trust her to really, really make sure the rat is motivated by doing the right thing rather than simply chasing the reward money.

Going to court is an interesting topic as well. I asked Blank which court cases are in the legal databases so I could look them up, since I hadn't found any settled court cases with the BSA's name. "Litigation is in the names of the members, since they are the actual owners of the copyright, not the BSA," she said.

Still lacking any court cases after more searching, I followed up with an e-mail asking for names of specific court cases. Blank, via e-mail: "We don't provide information on cases filed in the past and there are no judgments to read - they all settle early in the process." Yet she didn’t offer that information while on the phone, making me wonder if she hoped to confuse the issue and have me think that some cases have been adjudicated (and a precedence set).

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